Filipino birdwatching enthusiasts took part in the annual Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race recently held at the Pahang hill resort in Malaysia.
Members of the Philippine environmental group Haribon Foundation participated in the much-anticipated birdwatching event in Malaysia where avian lovers from different parts of the world flock together in the highlands of Fraser’s Hill to spot more than 260 endemic, migratory and rare birds.
Now in its 30th year, the international bird race and festival organized by Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation and co-sponsored by the Malaysian Nature Society and the Malaysian WWW for Nature gathered more than 10,000 people including birder participants from Canada, France, South Africa, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and other neighboring countries.
During the race, teams of three persons competed to catch sight of, record and identify as many birds as possible within almost 3,000 hectares of lush tropical rainforest. Using high-tech telephoto lenses, binoculars and spotting scopes, participants tried their luck to spot or photograph the abundant variety of bird species found in the area.
Traveling light, Haribon member Liselle Santos admitted that she initially felt like dropping out of the competition before the activity commenced. She told Haribon, “I only had my trusty 75-300mm lens with me compared to the sophisticated birding gears carried by other participants. Being new to birdwatching, it made me feel intimidated.”
Santos is among the hundreds of birders who took on the challenge to find and name as many feathered friends while trekking the hills of Malaysia. With a standard gear on hand, she captured in photos the colorful bird sightings in the expedition and recounted her unforgettable experience close to nature.
Close encounters with colorful chirpers
Prior to the race, vibrant avian wonders made an advance appearance to the anticipating challengers, including a swift moving Streaked spider hunter. Meanwhile, across the assembly location were several Spectacled laughing thrush gliding over pine trees and prepping to get photographed. Two Silver-eared mesia perched on a nearby fence while a Fire-tufted barbet looking like a little toucan captured everyone’s attention even before the formal orientation.
Trekking up the hill, the participants were greeted by a Red-bearded bee-eater resting quietly on a high fruit tree. Down the road, a Black-throated sunbird introduced itself to the excited visitors and within just a few steps, an Oriental magpie landed on the ground making it easy to click a few shots.
An even closer avian encounter came about in a nearby rain water pool where a Malayan laughing thrush camouflaged as one of the branches and a Ferruginous flycatcher hopped unconcernedly in full view. As the participants proceeded in the trail, a Mountain fulvetta sitting on an exposed branch settled for a few photo ops.
Amid the canvas of lush trees, a Greater yellow-nape woodpecker and a male Grey-chinned minivet made a striking appearance under the afternoon sun. As the sky cleared the next day, it afforded good flight views as the challengers spotted a Greater racket-tailed drongo.
Not longer after, a raptor landed on the branches but quickly retreated into the canopy with its wing movements echoing throughout the forest. Finally, a ping sound across the stream bank caught the attention of the participants —it was a Slaty-backed forktail, a bird species usually found in the Eastern Himalayas, Northern India, Southern China and continental Southeast Asia.
Why birds matter
Birds provide an exciting window on nature. BirdLife International explains that because birds like the Philippine Eagle are incredibly sensitive to environmental changes and most are relatively easy to monitor, they can help determine biodiversity crisis or how well an ecosystem is doing. In other words, their protection is tantamount to the sustainability of nature.
In 2014, Mount Mingan in Northern Luzon was declared a protected sanctuary after Haribon researchers confirmed the sighting of an adult pair and a juvenile Philippine Eagle – the latter fondly named by the community as Gab-E (Gabaldon Eagle).
“One of the perks of being a Haribon members is you get the opportunity to join in expeditions like this,” enthused Santos.
She told the organization how she managed to pull through despite her apprehensions at the beginning, “I don’t want to miss this experience and I believe in what Haribon is advocating.”
Santos identified a total of 32 birds in the two-day birdwatching adventure.
“Experiencing these birds added dimensions to how I perceive the world. The diversity of life becomes obvious and it turns a world of scarcity to one of abundant variety,” she added.
Other activities in the Fraser International Bird Race included a Bird Photography Contest, Free Guide Jungle Trekking, Herping Night Walk, a showcase of exhibit booths and an info talk from the 15 participating countries.
Haribon Foundation is the BirdLife International partner to the Philippines.